BITC's election response

Despite all major pollsters and commentators predicting another period of Coalition politics, the electorate delivered a clear majority for the Conservative party in the UK General Election last week. Stephen Howard, Chief Executive Business in the Community shares his response to the surprise election outcome and what this could mean for responsible business in the UK.

As the dust settles after Friday’s election result and the business of creating a government continues, the Conservative majority government now has the mandate to deliver on the promises in full set out in its manifesto.  There are a real breadth of policy areas which, if realised, have the potential to further the ability of business to contribute towards a fairer society and more sustainable future – and we watch with interest to see how businesses in our membership, and beyond responds to these opportunities. The manifesto contained policies addressing a number of key issues where business can make the biggest sustained impact, most notably:

  • Enterprise and employment – A commitment to create two million new jobs and to back small firms with a range of tax reliefs that include extra support for high street shops, a major review of business rates and support for the rural economy.

  • Employees – A commitment to further gender equality by reducing the gender pay gap, requiring transparent reporting on this gap publically and increasing the minimum wage to £8 by the end of the decade.

  • Education and young people – A commitment to create 3 million extra apprenticeships, remove employer National Insurance for the under 21s and drive the numbers of long-term young unemployed to historic lows.

  • Communities – Bring more voluntary sector partners into public services delivery; continue to pioneer social impact bonds, increase collaboration and youth action at local level through guaranteed places for all children on the National Citizenship Service, continued support for the Prince of Wales’ Step Up To Serve initiative and a pledges to embed paid Volunteering Leave;

  • Environment – A focus on ensuring that major infrastructure programmes are environmentally sensitive and an on-going commitment to meet the UK’s climate change commitments.

While these commitments are welcome, there are many more areas where I believe government has a role to play to drive change through policy, which have only lightly entered the political debate, did not make the headlines, and in many cases were absent from manifestos during the election campaign.

We can already see that the enormous forces of change that are shaping global and local economies and long term trends such as changing demographics, future natural resource constraints and climate change are having an impact alongside more immediate economic challenges such as low productivity and skills shortages.  An ageing population has pushed up the state pension age for retirement, last winter’s floods and storms were estimated to cost some £1bn and the latest UKCES data shows that one in five of all vacancies are not filled because of a lack of skills.

Against this backdrop we urge the government to:

  • Ensure that social value and strong environmental requirements are at the heart of the commitment to spend a significant proportion of GDP on major infrastructure programmes.

  • Consider the broader issue of inclusive workplaces to ensure everyone, regardless of their background, has the opportunity to fulfil their aspirations – for example, tackling the continued problem of occupational segregation of woman into low paid work and ongoing exclusion of jobseekers who face significant barriers to work.

  • Not brush BAME representation under the carpet. One in four children at primary schools is from a BAME background yet we know from our research that they make up just 1 in 16 in top management positions.  Following the Lord Davies review into gender representation we would welcome a similar investigation into BAME representation.

  • Support equal opportunities for older people to continue working if they wish. Our recent Missing Millions report calls for a number of practical recommendations for government and business to enable this change.

  • Work in partnership with business as well as the voluntary sector to drive innovation in public service delivery and use business skills help create a genuine volunteering culture that enables employees to share and learn new skills and support local communities.

  • Continue to support education across the UK by encouraging businesses to support young people in schools, with a particular focus on those who need most help, to build successful working lives, and ensuring that reducing the gap between those who achieve success at school and beyond and those who do not is at the heart of educational policy. We welcome Ministers and MP’s to visit any one of our hundreds of long term school partnerships to see and learn how this activity is working on the ground across the UK.

  • In a year that will place climate change back on the international agenda, we know that economic growth and prosperity will be limited by the world’s diminishing supply of natural resources. Government must create the policy framework that encourages greater business action and international collaboration as well as supports businesses of all sizes to transition to a low carbon economy.

We will watch with interest in the coming weeks as we begin to move from the rhetoric of recent months, to seeing specific practical actions that will drive change in our communities, workplaces and the natural environment.

It’s also important to remember that policy and legislation can only go so far. For meaningful change to be achieved by government it must work in partnership with businesses of all sizes as well as work effectively across the many government departments that impact responsible business. No one party or business has the answer to the complex and pressing challenges, but both business and government must be part of the solutions.  We know from our thirty plus years’ experience working with hundreds of businesses of all sizes business to drive strategic change that responsible businesses have the potential to drive innovation, productivity and innovation and in doing so stimulate lasting economic growth. 

We ask the government to bring business with it and commit to working with our members to create the long-term sustainable partnerships to change our communities and economy for the better. And as business increasingly looks beyond short-term economic cycles we also encourage government to be brave and think further ahead than its own relatively short tenure. It’s only by doing so that we will create long-term sustainable change that truly benefits all, without leaving behind our most vulnerable.